One of the preeminent poets of her generation, Susan Howe is known for innovative verse that crosses genres and disciplines in its theoretical underpinnings and approach to history. Layered and allusive, her work draws on her Irish roots and early American history weaving quotation and image into poems that often revise standard typography. Howe’s interest in the visual possibilities of language can be traced back to her initial interest in painting: Howe earned a degree from the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts in 1961, and enjoyed some success with gallery shows in New York. An idiosyncratic, important and increasingly influential American poet, Howe has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including most recently the 2010 Bolligen Prize and a Guggenheim fellowship. She has been a distinguished fellow at the Stanford Institute for Humanities, as well as the Anna-Maria Kellen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. She taught for many years at the State University of New York-Buffalo, where she held the Samuel P. Capen Chair of Poetry and the Humanities.
A powerful selection of Susan Howe's previously uncollected essays, The Quarry moves backward chronologically, from her brand-new "Vagrancy in the Park" (about Wallace Stevens) through such essential texts as "The Dis- appearance Approach," "Personal Narrative," "Sorting Facts; or, 47 Ways of Looking at Chris Marker," "Frame Structures," and "Where Should the Com- mander Be" to end with her seminal early art criticism, "The End of Art."
Taken together, The Quarry and The Birth-mark map the intellectual territory of one of America's most important poets.
Available: November 10 2015
Susan Howe reads our intellectual inheritance as a series of civil wars, where each text is a series of battlefields in which a strange lawless author confronts interpreters and editors eager for settlement.
Howe approaches Anne Hutchinson, Mary Rowlandson, Cotton Mather, Hawthorne, Emerson, Melville, and Emily Dickinson—as a poet-scholar: Her insights, fierce and original, are rooted in her seminal textural scholarship in examining the editorial histories of landmark works. In the process, Howe uproots settled institutionalized roles of men and women as well as of poetry and prose. The Birth-mark, first published in the mid-1990s, now joins the New Directions canon of a dozen Susan Howe titles.
Available: November 10 2015
Great America writers William Carlos Williams, Jonathan Edwards, Hannah Edwards Wetmore, Emily Dickinson, Noah Webster, Gertrude Stein, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens – all in the physicality of their archival manuscripts (reproduced in beautiful fascimiles here) – are the presiding spirits of Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives. Also woven into Susan Howe’s newest book are beautiful photographs of textiles from anonymous craftspeople. All the materials are links, discoveries, chance encounters, the visual and acoustic shocks resulting from rooting around amid physical archives. These are the telepathies the bibliomaniacal poet relishes. Rummaging in the archives she finds "a deposit of a future yet to come, gathered and guarded ... a literal and mythical sense of life hereafter–happiness."
A New Directions and Christine Burgin co-publication.
Poetry and cinema collide in Susan Howe’s masterful meditation on the filmmaker Chris Marker, whose film stills are interspersed throughout, as well as those of Andrei Tarkovsky.
Sorting word-facts I only know an apparition. Scribble grammar
has no neighbor. In the name of reason I need to record something
because I am a survivor in this ocean.
"What treasures of knowledge we cluster around." That This is a collection in three pieces. "Disappearance Approach," an essay about the sudden death of the author’s husband ("land of darkness or darkness itself you shadow mouth"), begins the book with paintings by Poussin, an autopsy, Sarah Edwards and her sister-in-law Hannah, phantoms, elusive remnants, and snakes. "Frolic Architecture," the second section – inspired by visits to the vast 18th-century Jonathan Edwards archives at the Beinecke and accompanied by six photograms by James Welling – presents hauntingly lovely, oblique text-collages that Howe (with scissors and "invisible" Scotch Tape and a Canon copier) has twisted, flattened, and snipped into "inscapes of force." The final section, "That This," delivers beautiful short squares of verse that might look at home in a hymnal, although their orderly appearance packs startling power.
Three long poems interspersed with prose pieces, Souls of the Labadie Tract takes as its starting point the Labadists, a Utopian Quietest sect that moved from the Netherlands to Cecil County, Maryland, in 1684. The community dissolved in 1722. In Souls, Howe is lured by archives and libraries, with their ghosts, cranks, manuscripts, and scraps of material. One thread winding through Souls is silken: from the epigraphs of Edwards ("the silkworm is a remarkable type of Christ...") and of Stevens ("the poet makes silk dresses out of worms") to the mulberry tree (food of the silkworms) and the fragment of a wedding dress that ends the book. Souls of the Labadie Tract presents Howe with her signature hybrids of poetry and prose, of evocation and refraction.
With exacting rigor and wit, Howe pulls Dickinson free of all the sterile and stuffy belle-of-Amherst cotton wool and shows the poet in touch with elemental forces of nature, and as a prophet in all her radical zealotry and poetic glory. Her Emily Dickinson is a unique American genius, a demon lover of poetry––no neurasthenic spider artist. Howe draws into her discussion Browning, Wuthering Heights, the Civil War, "Master," the great Puritan preachers, captivity narratives, Shakespeare, and phantom lovers. As she chases away narrow and reductive feminist readings of the poet, Howe finds instead a radically powerful and true feminism at work in Dickinson, focusing the whole on that heart-stopping poem "My Life had stood––a Loaded Gun." A remarkable and passionate poet-on-poet engagement, My Emily Dickinson frees a great poet from the fetters of being read as a special female neurotic, and sets her against a fiery open sky where "Perception of an object means loosing and losing it... only Mutability certain."
"An icon-smasher, but one who saves the pieces," Susan Howe, as The Multicultural Review remarked, "is one of America’s most gifted poets of any formal persuasion." In The Midnight’s five sections, three of poetry and two of prose amply illustrated with images Howe has collected, we find bed hangings, unfinished lace, ghosts, family photographs, whispers, interjections, the fly-leaves of old books, The Master of Ballantrae, the Yeats brothers, Emily Dickinson, Lewis Carroll, Lady Macbeth, Thomas Sheridan, Mary Manning, Michael Drayton, Frederick Law Olmsted––a restless brood confronting, absorbing, and refracting history and language. With an inspired and inimitable verbal energy which takes on shades of wit, insomnia, and terror, The Midnight becomes a kind of dialogue in which the prose and poetry sections seem to be dreaming fitfully of each other.
The Europe of Trusts contains three brilliant, long-unavailable books which Susan Howe first published in the early 1980s: The Liberties, Pythagorean Silence, and Defenestration of Prague. These are the landmark books––following her volumes from the previous decade (Hinge Picture, Chanting at the Crystal Sea, Cabbage Gardens, and Secret History of the Dividing Line)––which established Howe as "one of America’s foremost experimental writers" (Publishers Weekly). "Her work," as Geoffrey O’Brien put it, "is a voyage of reconnaissance in language, a sounding out of ancient hiding places, and it is a voyage full of risk. ’Words are the only clues we have,’ she has said. ‘What if they fail us?’"
Pierce-Arrow, Susan Howe’s newest book of poems, takes as its point of departure the figure of Charles S. Peirce, the allusive nineteenth-century philosopher-scientist and founder of pragmatism, a man always on the periphery of the academic and social establishment yet intimately conjoined with them by birth and upbringing. Through Peirce and his wife Juliette, a lady of shadowy antecedents, Howe creates an intriguing nexus that explores the darker, melancholy sides of the fin-de-siècle Anglo-American intelligentsia. George Meredith and his wife Mary Ellen, Swinburne and his companion Theodore Watts-Dunton are among those who also find a place in the three long poem-sequences that comprise the book. Howe’s historical linkings, resonant with the sorrows of love and loss and the tragedies of war, create a compelling canvas of associations. “It’s the blanks and gaps,” she says, “that to me actually represent what poetry is—the connections between seemingly unconnected things—as if there is a place and might be a map to thought, when we know there is not.”
Available: June 01 1999
In Frame Structures, Susan Howe brings together those of her earliest poems she wishes to remain in print, and in the forms in which she cares to have them last. Gathered here are versions of Hinge Picture (1974), Chanting at the Crystal Sea (1975), Cabbage Gardens (1979), and Secret History of the Dividing Line (1978) that differ in some respects from their original small-press editions. In a long preface, "Frame Structures," written especially for this volume, Howe suggests the autobiographical, familial, literary, and historical motifs that suffuse these early works. Taken together, the preface and poems reflect her rediscovered sense of her own beginnings as a poet, her movement from the visual arts into the iconography of the written word.
Available: June 01 1996
The Nonconformist’s Memorial is a gathering of four long sequences that underscores Susan Howe’s reputation as one of the leading experimentalists writing today. Howe is a poet of language in history whose work resonates back through Melville, Dickinson, and Shelley to the seventeenth-century Metaphysicals and Puritans (the nonconformism of the title), and forward again to T.S. Eliot and the abstract expressionists. The sequences fall into two sections, "Turning" and "Conversion," in half-ironic nonconforming counterpoint to Eliot’s Four Quartets. Her collaging and mirror-imaging of words are concretions of verbal static, visual meditations on what can and cannot be said. For Howe, "Melville’s Marginalia" is the essential poem in the collection, an approach to an elusive and allusive mind through Melville’s own reading and the notations in his library books. This, says Howe, is "Language a wood for thought."
Available: June 01 1993
The Gorgeous Nothings — the first full-color facsimile edition of Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts ever to appear — is a deluxe edition of her late writings, presenting this crucially important, experimental late work exactly as she wrote it on scraps of envelopes. A never-before-possible glimpse into the process of one of our most important poets.
The book presents all the envelope writings — 52 — reproduced life-size in full color both front and back, with an accompanying transcription to aid in the reading, allowing us to enjoy this little-known but important body of Dickinson’s writing. Envisioned by the artist Jen Bervin and made possible by the extensive research of the Dickinson scholar Marta L. Werner, this book offers a new understanding and appreciation of the genius of Emily Dickinson.
MARJORIE PERLOFF on The Gorgeous Nothings from the TLS Books of the Year 2013.
My book of the year is the just published The Gorgeous Nothings (New Directions), which reproduces Emily Dickinson’s fifty-two extant envelope writings (from the Amherst College Library) in life-sizefull-colour facsimile, edited by Dickinson scholar Marta Werner and book artist Jen Bervin, with a terse and brilliant preface by the poet Susan Howe. Originally published by Granary Books, the New Directions edition, modestly priced, is a masterpiece of design and exacting scholarship. Dickinson, remember, only published ten of her more than 3,000 poem drafts and fragments in her lifetime: the manuscripts have thus proved to be of consuming interest. Together with the newly launched online Dickinson archive, this particular instalment of late work should be enough to convince even the most recalcitrant reader that for this great poet, spatial arrangement, gestural punctuation, and eccentric word design are central to meaning. Look at the spacing of poem draft A277, inscribed in pencil on both sides of a slit-open envelope: “that fondled them when they were Fire / will gleam and understand”, with the variant word “stir” above a wavy line in the upper-right. Visual poets around the world will soon be mining these endlessly suggestive fragments.